New NASA images show iconic Horsehead Nebula in unprecedented detail

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NASA recently used its James Webb Space Telescope to capture ethereal, detailed images of the Horsehead Nebula. 

The nebula, which NASA has called “one of the most distinctive objects in our skies,” is located in the constellation Orion. NASA said in a news release that the nebula is illuminated by a nearby hot star and formed from a “collapsing interstellar cloud of material.” New stars are also formed inside the nebula, making it a valuable location to study. 

Despite its striking presence in the skies, the nebula is temporary: it was once surrounded by gas clouds, but those have dissipated, NASA said, and astronomers estimate the entire nebula will disintegrate in about 5 million years. 

This image of the Horsehead Nebula from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope focuses on a portion of the horse’s “mane.”

NASA, ESA, CSA, K. Misselt and A. Abergel

The images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope show the “mane” of the Horsehead Nebula in “unprecedented” detail, NASA said. 

One image processed by NASA shows a delicate blue structure, highlighting the mane shape of that part of the nebula and showing stars, dust particles and more. 

Another image captured the nebula and “distant” galaxies, NASA said. NASA did not identify which galaxies were visible in the background. 

This image of the Horsehead Nebula focuses on a portion of the horse’s “mane” and shows distant galaxies. 

NASA, ESA, CSA, K. Misselt and A. Abergel

The images gave researchers a new understanding of how the structures at the edge of the nebula operate. Researchers already knew that UV light within the nebula evaporated the dust cloud itself, sweeping out dust particles and heated gas, but the telescope’s images “detected a network of thin features tracing this movement.” Astronomers were also able to see how dust in the nebula both blocks and emits light. 

The data observed by the telescope will next be used to study the evolution of physical and chemical properties of various materials inside the nebula, NASA said. 

This post was originally published on CBS News

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